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Under The Sea In 2011: Top 25

cue: Little Mermaid music.
Dig Up The Dead
24Weekend Nachos

There's a duck on the cover.
22St. Vincent
Strange Mercy

So quirky it hurts.
21God Harvest
Demo 2011

It's hard not to fall in love with a demo that has track titles like "Human Holocaust."
20Youth Lagoon
The Year of Hibernation

... so quiet and tiny that using any capital letters to describe this would be silly...
Old Raves End

Took me long enough, but Swarms impressed after many listens. Good thing they were so well-deserved.

Oh look, it's that cool thing you didn't check out this year but should have. Two songs of dragged out post-hardcore goodness.
17Asap Rocky

Token hip-hop inclusion... except this was actually superb.
Go Tell Fire To The Mountain

(inane yet oddly uplifting gibberish)
15The Men
Leave Home

The Men create music for men. It is manly music; not for women, just men with brawn. I am a man with brawn, and I like The Men.
14Andrew Jackson Jihad
Knife Man

Besides the parts where it makes me feel bad to be an upper-middle-class, white, male, this turned out pretty sublime, even by the band's already-high standards.
13Beau Navire

Dropped pretty significantly compared to my former opinion of it, but still pretty gorgeous screamo stuffs.

As much as I refused to see any beauty whatsoever in Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, its more spacey younger sibling was much harder to let sit idle. Time and time again I came back to A I A (for some reason) expecting to be a little less enthralled by the quiet lovability of "Come Softly" and the like and time and time again it didn't come anywhere near disappointment.
11The Mountain Goats
All Eternals Deck

John Darnielle does it again. The sky is blue.
Like Shadows

Never the biggest fan of Ampere or their over-the-top style of chaotic emo, I still approached Like Shadows with open arms. To say the least, it did anything but disappoint. Like Shadows succeeds where Ampere's other material did not-- in creating something not only violent and imposing, but cohesive. Short as it is, that may not be saying much to some, but its brevity when married with its power is flooring.
9The Weeknd

As groovy as The Weeknd's other mix, House of Balloons, was, I couldn't but but love Thursday just a tad more. Cohesive and airy, it provided just enough closure for me that House of Balloons did not besides its spectacular few tracks. One of the most listenable albums I encountered this year, Abel's crooning is just really hard to ignore when it comes down to it.
8Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver

The year saw many artists toning down the tenor of their past outputs, and Bon Iver personified this trend strongest. Or weakest, perhaps? Vernon's self-titled is a reversion back to his solo material, skipping over the overwrought dramatics of his woods-ridden, mono-stricken, sadness-seeping record for a certain Emma, written what seems like forever ago. The beauty of his latest is lost on many ("elevator music," really?), which is half-understandable considering how much more subtle the likes of "Towers" and "Holocene" are compared to the imposing likes of "Skinny Love." Further obscuring the piece is the fact that the lyrics are muddled and lost beneath the atmosphere. A crying shame to some, considering the sheer lyrical beauty of past tracks like "re: Stacks." This only evidences the fact that his self-titled requires a different listener, though. Vernon is out of the woods, out of the dense emotion, and he's graduated to the meadows. Trust me, Vernon is still well within the bucolic, natural niceness where he belongs, along with his command of songwriting and storytelling. But be sure to adapt to the change in scenery as well as Justin has, and you'll find yourself feeling less alienated and anguished over Bon Iver, Bon Iver, in the same way he seems to have dropped this sorrow from his playbook, too.
Roads to Judah

Considering 2011 was the year I finally broke down and enjoyed more music of the metal variety, it wouldn't have made sense had one not cracked my top ten of the year. While there were many close competitors that could have filled the spot (Loss, Ash Borer, God Harvest, and Corrupted each with equally-superb releases that barely missed the cut), Deafheaven makes the most sense, perhaps. As a sort of stepping stone in-between genres and aesthetics, Roads to Judah walks a thin line between unapologetic heaviness and dainty prettiness that is executed with astounding capability. I found it particularly amazing that Deafheaven inject their black metal with enough shoegaze to make the concoction interesting without losing an ounce of power in the process. Deafheaven's tour de force mixes odd ingredients (though the style is steadily gaining steam) better than any of their peers, and the swirling mix of dark and light, of black metal and shoegaze, indie elements, has proven too much for many listeners to resist, including myself.
6Baton Rouge
Fragments D'eux Memes

In many ways, Fragments D'eux Memes is an oddity, an outlier. Featuring members of Daitro, Baton Rouge is very much a toned-down version of the European screamo acts that they rival so formidably. One of the most striking aspects is the mere use of language. The music, which is composed with detail, precision and even lets a few catchy moments slip in amid the flurry of crunchy guitars, takes a back seat to the vocals. In doing so, Baton Rouge do the listener a favor and let the winding, French, vocals wind up and flesh out, spreading across the beautifully-crafted soundscape. The fact Fragments D'eux Memes feels exceedingly relatable makes me wonder if I'm a Frenchie in a past life (but then I remember how much that would put me at odds with my Americanism). Either way, Baton Rouge's laborious crafting of the succinct and satisfying Fragments D'eux Memes is an impressive foray from the screamo world to the emo/punk realm, and one that they hopefully continue to pursue in the future. Besides, it's better than any past Daitro output that didn?t have the help of Sed Non Satiata, anyway.
5Future Islands
On The Water

Even given their past two records which I enjoyed sufficiently, I've always liked the idea of Future Islands more than I've actually liked Future Islands. Previous LP In Evening Air was a dance-y affair, a little celebration of post-punk that made sure to never offend with its synths and lovable eccentricity. Oppositely, On The Water is an album to fall deeply into romance with rather than dance along with. The advent of a breakup inspires the record, and this shines through especially in the bitter, chilliness of the vocals. As consistent as any record of the year, On The Water does Baltimore proud in solidifying itself as one the year's best via Future Island's talents.
4Crash of Rhinos

For a while I was sure that this would be my favorite of the year. The fact that it drops in at number four says more about the overall quality of 2011 than it does this record, though. The little clash of emo with some subtle tokens from post-rock or something, Distal is the sophisticated (yet decidedly energetic... I'm still enthralled with that "Whooooo!!" at the beginning of "Big Sea") emo release that I was dying for this year.
3Laura Stevenson and the Can
Sit Resist

Who would have ever thought that 2011 would have been dominated so handily by somebody so cute and unassuming as Laura, especially among her prestigious ambient, emo and generally all-around pretentious peers. Be sure not to take her too lightly though. Yes, it's catchy and utterly adorable just about all the time, but what makes Laura's latest so distinct is when she sings - of all things- dead family members and the more morose subjects. Juxtaposed against the ebullient musicianship and mixed to perfection among Laura's angelic vocals and impeccable knack for songwriting (timing, specifically), and somewhere among Sit Resist is a recipe for a masterpiece. Actually, let's be honest, it?s pretty evident throughout.
2Tim Hecker
Ravedeath, 1972

By every meaning of the word, Tim Hecker's Ravedeath, 1972 is a grower. It's odd that its named after something so specific -a setting, a time, a place- because ambient by nature requires the listener to engage with the music, construct their own storyline, for the music to take full effect. Ravedeath, 1972 is no different-- it takes this blank slate approach and perfects it in many ways, even. In a manner that only one of the genre's extraordinaires is capable of, the album ebbs and flows from minimal strings to brimming with reverb, creating this beautiful amalgamation of layer upon layer. Still, Tim Hecker's masterpiece provides just enough of a narrative, but never too much-- it's incomplete. As impressive and majestic as his work is, the real virtue, the brunt, of the album comes from the listener?s inevitable (as engrossing as Ravedeath is, after all) input into the album.
Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

There's no other place for Hurry Up, We're Dreaming than at the top of the list. If I had my way, it'd be at the top of every list, and the only explanation for the fact that it isn't is that some other people must not love fun, of love life, or love Anthony Gonzalez as much as I do -- which is absurd. A masterpiece in every sense of the word, M83's first foray into double-album territory is gratifying in every way. From the big, single-esque numbers like obvious highlight and song-of- the-year "Midnight City," to the quieter, subtle touches of the shoegazey shores of "Wait," and even the evidence that Gonzalez has lost his fucking mind in "Raconte-Moi Histoire," consider all points of interest critically hit, and sunken. Where Ravedeath, 1972 took weeks and months to grab on, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is in your face and blunt, makes no apologies, takes no prisoners, and does so via synth and giant, 80's hooks. The album embodies every feeling of amazement and wonder, transporting listeners back and forth from pristine childhood memories to blissful romances with the switch of a track, and does so utterly seamlessly. In short, never have I ended a year being able to say my favorite album of said year placed rather highly among my all-time favorites. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming changes many things, and it changes the aforementioned mentality.
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